Southern Scotch

Southern Scotch
After the Fall 2016

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Your Pass to Party Between Drafts

After eight brutal weeks spent second-drafting my new mystery, I'm looking forward to a pass. What's the difference, you ask. Good question!

For most writers, the second draft--of a novel or story or play--is a brutal affair that looks something like this:

The process is seven times harder than digging a ditch with a spoon. It involves grappling with everything from typos to grammos to putrid turns of phrase to moronic plotting blunders. There's so much going on in the first draft that it would be unlikely for a second draft to involve any less. Think of it: in the first draft we're trying to get it all down--from plot line to pacing to characterization to setting to atmosphere to theme--and, as if all that weren't enough--we're trying those damned word things right too! When most writers face what they've got for a first draft, small wonder that their expressions turn out to be something like this:

And when they've finished the second draft, they're left feeling like this:

Still, if we don't have a passable reading copy yet, we will by the third or fourth draft. Now that most of the absolute garbage is gone, we can get down to the fine points of style. And the real magic can find its voice.

But much can be gained by taking a short working vacation which I call a 'pass'. In fact, much can be gained by taking quite a few of these, each with a different focus. After my own bloody second draft, I'm taking a pass, or a go-through, on the watch for blanks that I need to fill in or--well, anything that strikes my eye. The blanks may be things to be researched or settings requiring more details. And in this pass, I'll take care of as many as I cab. As for things that catch the eye, it's essential to relax, looking for things that stand out: inconsistencies, improbabilities, etc.

I'll also be mindful, in this pass, of the novel's proportions and pacing.

But I know the third draft will take its toll on me again. So I'll treat this first pass as a working vacation.

I may do five drafts of a novel, or six. But in between those drafts will be numerous quick passes: two or three for least two to go over the timeline...two or three on the watch for any scene that needs more oomph...

It's your call for your own book. But try experimenting with a pass or two in between drafts. The results may float your boat. And also the boats of your reader.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

My Secret Birthday

Have you ever thrown a surprise birthday party for yourself? If not, then take my word: when you do get around to it, you'll wonder what took you so long.

This year my birthday, November 7, falls on a Monday. I arranged weeks ago to take the day off work. Though I hadn't planned anything special--certainly not a surprise party--I planned to relax, sleep in at least one of the three mornings, see Hacksaw Ridge, enjoy a rare restaurant meal...and spend happy hours on my Work in Progress.

But I remembered my little black book...though I couldn't recall where I'd put put it.

Years ago, in Charlotte, NC--one of the unhappiest times in my life--I listed in a black notebook like this a hundred things I wanted to do or felt I must accomplish. During that difficult time, I checked off a couple dozen goals. And, since the move to Seattle two years ago, I've checked off a few dozen more. Others will get their own checks in short time. But a small core of die-hards remained--things I keep telling myself I 'can't' do. As I reviewed the list now,in Seattle, I knew: they can't ever be accomplished unless I tackle the roughest, toughest of them all.

Pardon my vagueness. But being too specific here would be unfair to you. In this one instance, generality is good and necessary. I have my One Thing blocking me as it has for many years. But common sense tells me I'm not alone in this: we all have our own One Thing, the big bad mother of them all that mocks us and torments us and blocks us from our other goals. 

This year, remembering that black book of accomplished and neglected dreams, I swore to throw myself the best goddamn birthday party I have ever had, taking myself by surprise. I would do the very thing that's been spitting in my eye for years.

I'm on my way to Renton, Monday morning, to cross the blinkin' Rubicon.

If this works out, I expect to start throwing more surprise parties throughout the new year. And I hope you all do the same.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

How to Help Lightning Strike Twice

Once something magical happened to us--some incredible blessed-by-the-gods stroke of luck. And we spend our lives waiting for it to return. There's little that we wouldn't do to see it one more time. How we wait...and we wait...and we wait.


The time I've returned to again and again: 1988. A year of glory and heartache: I had a literary agent, my first book was in print--but I couldn't find it anywhere. My publisher, I learned, had failed to list it in their catalogue. I knew who would take the hit if I had zero sales. But lightning struck. I'd joined one writers' group and had their newest mailing list. I was widely read in my genre and started ticking off the names of those I would approach. Next, I and my agent worked on obtaining free copies of my novel from the publisher. They complied because they owed me. What next?

From there, the pieces all fell into place as I heeded both instincts and logic:
--I had a hardcover novel with a first-rate cover, a story of a stolen custom-tailored suit. Though the gift of a paperback book's no big thing, I thought my book might be well-received: a hardcover horror novel sent out to horror writers.
--Better yet, I could gift wrap each copy, including a personalized note.
--Also, I'd only approach writers who'd work I had read. And instead asking for favors, I'd the book as an expression of thanks for the pleasure their work had brought me.

Well, the gifts were well-received and the book was nominated for an award...which it went on to receive.


Now, here I am all these years later, wondering if lightning can strike twice.


Common sense tells me that it can't strike in the same way. I'm no longer a first-time novelist and won't pretend I am. For now I'm publishing original ebooks, which don't translate to my ancient strategy. And, sad to say, I've put on a few years. So looking back on the opening quote, the same place simply isn't here for lightning to strike twice in.


If I turn my focus from blessings that I can't repeat to new blessings I possess, I see ways to encourage the return of that groovy old lightning. I'm doing better work today and I've built a considerable body of work since my traditional publishing luck headed south. Furthermore, if I can't repeat my strategy, I'm free to draw on the principles behind it:
--Have a gift I can send that is cool in itself--and totally appropriate to the book, or books, in mind.
--Make the packaging striking, memorable--and equally appropriate.
--There must be no strings attached--not the tiniest whiff of 'I'm sending you this in exchange for or with hopes of a review, an awards vote or a date your daughter or sister.
--The goal should be both pure and simple: introduce myself to those whose books or reviews or service I enjoy. Regardless of their reaction, I have high hopes that the gift is enjoyed.

Now, I'm not giving the store away as far as far as the particulars of the gift this time around...or the ingenious packaging...or my mailing list. But in the end I've offered something far more valuables: a short list of working principles to try out in your own campaigns.

1) Don't ask for favors from strangers who are already under siege.
2) Let your introduction in itself be a memorable gift, without strings.
3) Ground your approach in your own reality. Once upon a time I had a hardcover I have a series of ebooks. Different hooks for different books.
4) Whatever else you do, project this aura: I'm looking at you.

This is my report.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Man Flu Blues Plus Teaser

Sorry, all. No post this week, since I've been down for three days with a cold.

But I'll make it up to you next weekend with an extra-lively post on two promotional projects nearly thirty years apart. Can lightning strike again?

Stay tuned.

All the more reason to change the place, eh?

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Thug City

So, here I am in a place I adore, writing of it as Thug City.

Almost all of the new Boss MacTavin novel will be centered in the notorious part of town known as Third and Pike. Aka, The Scourge of Seattle. And the crime here is horrendous: drive-by shootings, stabbings, beatings with ball pein hammers, muggings, corner drug deals, rape....and theft, theft and still more theft.

My forced research on the area involved my working for six months in a retail store at Third and Pike. I saw it all in my six months: petty theft, grand larceny, rumbles at the entrance, bloodied women weeping that they'd just been raped, security guards beaten and thrown to the ground...And this was in our store alone. Over and over, armed cops would do one freelance security gig--and swear never to return. One very large veteran cop warned me: "Man, your job's more dangerous than mine is. Get out."

Get out I did, and as fast as I could. I'd transferred here from a store location in Charlotte. Now that I had a studio and had gotten on my feet, I vowed to write of what I'd learned and seen. I also swore to learn still more about retail theft. 

I have and I've got a strong book in the works, one based on real experience. It's something new and exciting, I think. At the same time, however, I feel an obligation to do right by the city. Doing right would entail finding something between two classic visions of New York:

Scorcese's hellish Taxi Driver vision:

And Woody Allen's romanticized Manhattan:

For a tight thriller, the challenge is daunting. The focus must be Third and Pike, the horrors I saw daily. The blood and degradation. Yet it's not enough to plunge our hero into this pocket of pus, pretending that it is the city. It's not. Undercover, Boss may grow more sickened with each chapter. But he must catch scattered glimpses of the beauty of Seattle. And at some point he must seek them out to counter the poison that's flooding his soul. 

I've no plans to hold back on Thug City. But if balance is all, then let's have it here too: the city as a character that's flawed but lovely nonetheless.

Yes, by all means let's get Boss to Capitol Hill!

Saturday, October 8, 2016

A Reb Van Winkling We Will Go

In the past couple of years I've done a lot of Reb Van Winkling. And I'm of two minds about it. Waking up to things you've missed over the course of your life can be sad:

My own Winkle-ization went something like this
-- A somewhat wild Canadian decade after college, with beer-drinking playing a prominent part. No interest in music at all through those years. No interest in anything except writing and the bar scene and getting back home to the States.
--My return to the States in 1980 and a bold move to San Francisco. There I stopped drinking and began working out and committed myself more seriously to writing as a career. I knuckled in, moving on to New York, determined to conquer the city. There I finally succeed in publishing my first novel, began the second...and married badly. Really badly. Crash. No time for anything now but writing and recovering from the divorce.
--Onward to Atlanta in 1988, with hopes to start over again. No music, no TV or workouts. Working, writing and recovering,
--From Atlanta to San Francisco again to Atlanta again and on to Portland, then on Charlotte for six miserable years. I yo-yo'd and ran and reacted, and did nothing but work and write, even after my career in traditional publishing had ended.

Whoa, dude--glum stuff!

I know, I know. And I wouldn't have started this blog post if there hadn't been a turn.

It's tough enough being Van Winkle. But the tougher part comes when you learn that you've slept--and realize the time that you've lost.

Two years ago my awakening came after summoning the courage for one last cross-country move: from Charlotte to a city where I'd never been. And Seattle has been both good to me and for me. The first truly great adventure since my positive moves to San Francisco and New York. Here old Reb Van Winkle awakened more each day. And while learning ruefully how much I'd missed, I learned to rejoice in my late in life discoveries. 

Allow me to share a few.

1) Last night I discovered--God's truth, I swear--a DVD I'd bought but forgotten: Wayne's World. From 1992! Yes, Reb Van Winkle 'discovered' this classic 24 freaking years after it's release.

2) I 'discovered' this great band approximately 46 years after it began:

3)  After working two job for most of my life--many of those years in retail--I cut back to one job...with a boost from Soc Security. Better yet, the job was clerical, M-F, weekends and holidays off. Time to write!

4) I graduated from a flip phone to a smart phone, no longer reliant on free Wi-Fi to access the Web or my emails.

5) I checked out and fell hard for Uber, decreasing my morning commute time at a reasonable price...and buying still more time for writing.

I've awakened in so many ways that my general facial expression is one of a wonderstruck kid. And while it's true that I wish I'd not slept for so long, it's also sweet in later life to take pleasure in daily discoveries.

And if any of you are Van Winkling:

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Business Cards: Make the Back the Livin' End

You haven't closed any sales with the eye-catching front of your two-sided card. You've compelled your card recipients to have a look at the back. And that's where the real magic can start to occur.

Now, that's not a card but it gives sound advice. No business card, even the greatest, will in itself close any sale. That can only be done by you writing, your art or your service. But how do you persuade folks to try you? By planting strong thoughts about wanting to have a relationship with you and that special thing you do.

And you've got 3.5 x 2 inches to do that. Has your jaw dropped yet? It should have, for the challenge is formidable. And the reverse sides of many cards prove it by looking too cluttered.

The absolute essentials are:

1) Your real mojo manifested in only 4 or 5 words. Put this at the top or the middle or the bottom, depending your taste. As for me, I say the top. And this is one of the most difficult things you'll ever do in your life: nailing what's different about you or your work, what should take our breath away, in just handful. It can be done--and must be done--neatly placed on a 3.5 x 2 inch card.
    Award-Winning Author
    Graduate of (Famous Writing School)
2) A small photo taken by a pro
3) Name
4) Email address 
5) Professional links: Facebook/blog/Amazon Author Page

You may wish to add your address and/or phone number, depending on your business. In general, though, I'd avoid offering that till contact's been first made through email.

Remember: you aren't closing anything with your business card. You're planting seeds of wonder. And you want folks to wonder increasingly how cool it would be to enter a relationship with you: reading your books or using your service for many years to come.

Don't place the order for your cards until your mojo's smoking.

Image result for mojo images

Take the test today. Don't wait: how, in 4 or 5 words, can you stand apart from the pack?